Thanks to Morgan for this update from Isle of Wight Frack Free. Ed
More than sixty people gathered in Totland Church Hall on Tuesday night for a public meeting to learn more about the prospect of oil and gas drilling on the Island.
A presentation covered what has happened so far in the licensing process, the actions of the national government in support of the industry, the Island’s geology, and details on the differences between conventional and unconventional drilling. It also described potential risks and benefits, including threats to human health, the local environment, the global climate, and how economic benefits may or may not reach Island residents.
Oil drilling plans well advanced
This meeting came after an announcement by UK Oil & Gas Investments PLC (UKOG) at the end of January that, “we are well advanced in our plans” to drill on the Island, firstly at Arreton.
The company has been awarded licenses for conventional and unconventional drilling in a 200 square kilometre area of the Island.
Hosted by campaign group
The event was hosted by Frack Free Isle of Wight, a group of individuals from all walks of life, committed to raising awareness of the local, national and global issues surrounding fracking and other fossil fuel exploitation methods.
The presentation was given by Sylvia May of Freshwater, a retired head-teacher, who said to the crowd:
“When I was in your shoes, in a meeting just like this last year, I began to panic. I panicked for weeks. I knew I had to learn more.”
The presentation was followed by a lively discussion, which welcomed a number of different viewpoints.
Hamish Wilson, of Cowes, former President of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain, said that while “I am not here to defend fracking,” he cautioned audience members to remember that the oil and gas industry are “not they, it’s we. We’re regular people, like you and me.”
“We have to think of our young people,” said Juliet Ketteridge of Totland. “The legacy of this is nightmarish. I don’t know if I can go home and sleep tonight. With the council given just 16 weeks to get their heads round this, it’s unfair when they are in crisis. They are only human. We’re a vulnerable Island, plump for plucking.”
Ketteridge was referring to a limit recently imposed by Westminster, designed to speed up the approval process for oil and gas projects.
Influence of national government on local decision making
Other audience members alluded to the undue influence of national government on local decision making, a concern that was raised by the council in a motion passed Jan 20 that described: “the Government has a clear policy in favour of fracking and should therefore be unable to take such planning decisions as there is a clear issue of predetermination by the Secretary of State”.
Philip Smith of Norton, Freshwater said,
“The elephant in the room is the influence of the oil and gas industry on our political process.
“People need to start making noise, not being passive as we’ve been brought up to be over centuries.”
Also in attendance was Nicholas Belfitt, of Shanklin, Vice-Chair of the Isle of Wight Liberal Democrats. He said,
“I’m a young person, I grew up on the Island, and when so many green things were cancelled I was very upset. This is short term gain for long term damage.”
Frack Free for an Ecozoic Isle of Wight?
The following night, on Wednesday, Ventnor Botanic Garden Friends’ Society hosted Frack Free Isle of Wight as part of their ongoing ‘Café Botanique’ lecture series.
The talk, titled “Frack Free for an Ecozoic Isle of Wight?” featured an abbreviated version of the public meeting presentation and a lecture from Morgan Curtis, of Freshwater, on her experiences as a climate activist in the US, UK and in Paris as a youth delegate at the historic UN Climate Conference in December.
Two more Frack Free Isle of Wight public meetings are upcoming.
The first will be at Yarmouth Community Hall on 3rd March from 6.30-8.30pm.
The second will be at Arreton Community Centre, 6th March 2-4pm.
All are welcome.